Review of "Ethical Conflicts in Psychology"

By Donald N. Bersoff (editor)
American Psychological Association , 1999
Review by Jerome Young on Oct 31st 2001
Ethical Conflicts in PsychologyBersoff's Ethical Conflicts in Psychology (Second Edition) is a textbook aimed at providing graduate level psychology students with a comprehensive overview of the kinds of ethical issues they are likely to encounter when they begin their practice, or, as Bersoff expresses it, begin their "ethical voyage". The book would also be an excellent resource for psychologists who have finished their studies and are already engaged in teaching, practice, or research. As a philosopher, I also found the book quite stimulating and think any philosophers interested in ethics and psychology would find it a valuable book.

The book is quite impressive in its depth and breadth in addressing many contentious ethical issues and doing so in an easily accessible way. Bersoff's book is divided into ten chapters, with excerpts taken from psychology journals, books, legal texts, and official policy statements from the American Psychological Association. The texts are excerpted in order to focus on specific ethical issues and to make the book as comprehensive as possible (no easy task!) of the wide variety of ethical conflicts encountered in psychology. Each chapter is introduced by the author and each excerpted text is followed by a brief commentary. The readings contained in this book are very good in that they are spiced with vignettes that pose ethical challenges students can sink their teeth into. The first three chapters serve as an introduction to the types of ethical issues faced in practice, how codes of ethics are applied in these situations, and a definition of fundamental moral principles necessary for solving ethical dilemmas. The other chapters look at specific topics of concern for psychologists in their daily practice, such as ethical conflicts arising out of concerns about confidentiality, privacy, boundaries in clinical practice, expert testimony, and legal liability, to name a few.

Although the author states that he tried to make the second edition of this book less ethnocentric, the viewpoint represented throughout the text is Western. His inclusion of the Canadian Code of Ethics and the Canadian Psychological Association's system for ethical decision making is good and does, in fact, provide the American audience with a good source to contrast approaches. However, though there are differences between Canadians and Americans, the contrast is not as striking as it might be with similar texts from another (non-Western) culture. Alternatively, he might have tried to include texts addressing the difficult ethical problems clinicians encounter with patients from non-Western cultures living in the West. Since the length of the text in its present form is 600 pages, it is difficult, or perhaps overly ambitious, for it to do more however. Given that its target audience is Western, the ethnocentricity of the text is perhaps unavoidable.

Bersoff's book is one that will, without doubt, help many graduate students to begin their ethical voyage and to offer the seasoned clinician guidance in times of conflict. Moreover, though the target audience is not philosophers, they too would benefit from all the hard work and insights Bersoff's extensive experience offers.

© 2001 Jerome Young

Jerome Young is a foreign lecturer at Keio University SFC (Kanagawa, Japan) and a post-graduate student in the Philosophy of Mental Health program at the University of Warwick (England).


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